Dial Nano for Emergency - by Mansi Thapliyal

Ganesh Bhatt of Uttarakhand's Tehri district at your service in the hour of need.

Ganesh Bhatt, a resident of the village Bhalle goan, District Tehri Garhwal stands for a portrait next to his Tata Nano car (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Ganesh Bhatt

Hailing from Bhallegaon, a village in Tehri District in Uttarakhand Ganesh Bhatt, a 32-year-old was using his vehicle, Tata Nano as an emergency service after he learnt that ambulance drivers were scarce in the region. In 42 days, he took 62 people to the hospital, including pregnant women, elderly persons and children. Out of 62 cases, 51 contacted him through social media. Ganesh was actively posting on Facebook about his journeys so that more and more people in need could reach out to him. He was also providing medical supplies to elderly patients. When migrant workers started to walk back home, Ganesh dropped a few people to their villages and also made arrangements for them to rest overnight in his village. 

Ganesh Bhatt, a resident of the village Bhalle goan, District Tehri Garhwal stands for a portrait next to his Tata Nano car (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

During Janta Curfew starting March 22, the National Highway 58, a 538 km long road running across three states (Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand) was closed, with no public or private passenger vehicles running at that time. 

Ganesh’s car was on the road making two to four trips a day for 42 days, sometimes at night too. The nearest hospital from Bhallegaon is 20 kilometres away.

Ganesh Bhatt, a resident of the village Bhalle goan, District Tehri Garhwal stands for a portrait next to his Tata Nano car (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Ganesh Bhatt, a resident of the village Bhallegoan, District Tehri Garhwal stands for a portrait next to his Tata Nano car. 

One resident of the village called the car "the lifeline of their region". During the lockdown period, Ganesh turned his car into an emergency vehicle carrying patients to the hospital, helping the elderly with ration and medical supplies and at times, dropping walking migrant workers to their respective villages.

NH-58 National Highway goes through Ganesh’s village Bhallegaon in Tehri District (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

National Highway 58 goes through Ganesh’s village Bhallegaon in Tehri District. This particular highway connects the hilly region with the rest of the country, bringing livelihood to people, as many popular tourist and pilgrim destinations are on this highway. Also, people living in the far remote villages, where the roads haven’t reached yet, are dependent on this highway for all basic needs as well all kinds of emergencies including medical.

Arun Rai, who has been living in Bhallegaon for the 35 years, said earlier he could get a public bus or a private passenger jeep from the main road which is hardly 100 meters away from his house. However, during the lockdown period, there was no public transport available.

Bhallegaon from a distance (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Bhallegaon from a distance

Bhallegaon is a small roadside village in Tehri District, Uttarakhand with 100 houses, six education institutes including; primary, secondary, higher secondary, inter-college, polytechnic and one private school and one primary health centre. In the village, most of the people earn their livelihoods either through shops or hotels or farming or construction work. Ganesh has been born and raised in Bhallegaon.

"It seemed only my car was running on the road at that time” (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

“It seemed only my car was running on the road at that time”, Ganesh recalls. 

Jyoti Bangwal, who runs a roadside restaurant in Bhallegaon says, “those days, people were too scared to even step outside their homes, people dreaded going to hospitals or coming in contact with anyone who had any kind of sickness. There are more than 20-25 cars in our village but nobody wanted to take the risk.”

According to Sandeep, another resident of Bhallegaon, “some didn’t want to go as they thought the police might bother them if they didn’t have proper vehicle papers.”

Arun Rai ( 56 ) in the photograph, outside his house (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Some 30 years ago, Arun was hired by BRO (Border Roads Organisation) as a construction worker along with other people from Jharkhand and were brought to Bhallegaon while the highway was being constructed. 

Arun said he doesn’t know where the others are, but he stayed.

For years, he did many small jobs in the village and earned for himself until 2017, when he slipped from a bamboo ladder and got injured. 

Since then, he walks with the aid of a stick and is unable to earn a livelihood. According to Ganesh, Arun is in need of a knee transplant surgery as per the diagnosis of a doctor in the hospital in Srinagar, Uttarakhand. 

However, at the moment, Arun has neither any savings nor a way to earn a living.

Arun lives by himself. Since his accident, he mostly gets help from his neighbours and at times, from Ganesh with monthly ration and medical supplies.

During Janta Curfew, Arun had a fall again, was in extreme pain, and asked his neighbours to contact Ganesh. 

Ganesh took Arun to the hospital in Srinagar, 20 kilometres away, in his Tata Nano car on 6th April. 

Poonam Devi ( 23 years old ), with her baby girl, outside her house (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Poonam Devi (aged 23), with her baby girl, outside her house in Bhallegaon, Tehri District, Uttarakhand. 

During Janta Curfew on April 28th, Poonam was taken by Ganesh in his Tata Nano Car to Srikot Hospital, 23 kilometres away, due to an emergency.

According to Poonam, her husband had called few other people, but most  refused, saying either they didn’t have the permission to go or were scared as they didn’t have proper vehicle papers.

Poonam was 7 months pregnant at that time.

Ganga Devi and her husband Meharban Singh Rawat in their home in Badoli village (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

On the morning of 30th March, their 15-year-old son was taken to the hospital in Srinagar by Ganesh in his TATA Nano car. 

Ganga Devi said, “suddenly the previous night, our son complained of chest pain.  We waited till morning and then called Ganesh ji. Our son is a heart patient and has already undergone surgery in 2015. We were scared.” 

Meharban said he had got to know about Ganesh’s initiative through Facebook.

This year during Janta Curfew, Meharban lost his job at a local restaurant as a helper in the kitchen which would bring in an earning of six to seven thousand rupees a month.

Babita Devi ( 35 ) outside her home in Badoli village (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Babita Devi (35) outside her home in Badoli village in Tehri District, Uttarakhand. 

On 26th April, Babita was taken to the hospital in Srinagar (24 kms away) by Ganesh in his Tata Nano car after Babita had injured her foot. 

Ganesh recalls, “it was Sunday and there was no doctor at emergency, then I posted a message on Facebook. After some time, a few local journalists reached the hospital - they were the ones who called the doctor. There was no electricity, but a generator was arranged and finally an X-ray done."

Babita’s house is around 500 metres from the main road. On that day, 2 people along with Ganesh helped carrying Babita to the main road, where the car was parked.

Sushma Devi’s case from Dharmkot (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Dharmkot as seen from Badoli, Tehri District

Atop this hill is Dharmkot village called Dharmkot, of Tehri district in Uttarakhand.

During Janta Curfew in April, a woman named Sushma Devi (age 45) fell from a tree while collecting wood in the forest and injured her arm.

At that time Rajendra Singh, her only son, was in Delhi and unable to come home as state borders were closed. 

That is when he reached out to Ganesh through Facebook and asked for his help. Next morning, Sushma Devi walked along with her nephew around 1.5 km from her house to the motorable road, where Ganesh was waiting. 

Since her accident, Sushma Devi has been driven by Ganesh thrice to the hospital for treatment.

Prem Singh, 52 years old, sits outside his house in Badoli village (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

On March 16th, a few days before the lockdown, Prem met with an accident while travelling on a loaded truck. He was immediately taken to the hospital in Srinagar by Ganesh in his car. 

Prem describes his current situation, “my neighbours leave this little baby goat with me, tied to my cot, knowing that it is safe here!” 

At the moment, Prem can barely walk, as he had to undergo surgery. Until now he was the only bread earner in his family, now his wife Guddi sells cow milk and does odd jobs to feed the family of 5.

Sandeep Singh Rawat ( 29 ), poses for a photograph inside his restaurant in Bhallegaon (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Sandeep was one of the first people to join Ganesh in his initiative to help people with medical emergencies. Considering the tough terrain of the region and inaccessibility to the road, often Ganesh would need extra hands to help, lifting patients and bringing them to the main road. Sandeep said, “Ganesh bhai’s love for the mountains and his courage to help people, has drawn me to join hands with him. My wife was pregnant at the time and needed to be taken for an ultrasound, it's when I called Ganesh Bhai, as I didn't have a car. And he immediately came to help!”

Sandeep has a roadside restaurant which has been non-functional since March 22, 2020. Before the lockdown, he would earn between 15k-20k a month depending on the tourist season. He had taken a loan of worth Rupees 10 lakh to make the restaurant and is still remaining to give. With rising interest and no income, he fears he might have to sell off the place.

Currently, Sandeep is also fighting another battle with some other young people from his village against the Stone Crushing company. He fears that if the stone crusher starts he might lose his farmland, he won’t be able to grow anything due to dust pollution, the crusher creates. He along with other people have been on a sit-in protest for more than a month now and soon might go into a hunger strike if there are no steps taken.

Govind Singh Chauhan ( 52) with his brother, Vijay Singh stands in front of the remains of their 30 years old hotel (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Govind is one of the people, who came forward to pay a portion of the instalment for Ganesh’s car when the bank recently had come to take his car away due to non-payment of the instalment. Govind described that afternoon, "I was standing with Ganesh in the marketplace; when two men came from the bank to take away the car. I requested them to give us 5 days to pay, but they stringently refused. Then I gave 14 thousand rupees to Ganesh and asked him to pay the bank." That money Govind gave, was saved by him to buy a scooty for his family.

Govind's hotel was demolished as part of the widening of road for the All Weather Char Dham Road Project last year in November. There were 14 rooms in the hotel and Govind would earn 15-20 k a month. His brother would live on the first floor of the hotel. Govind has been given a compensation of 5 lakh rupees by the government. However, he says, "How one can start a hotel with just Rupees 5 lakhs in today's times? I have filed an appeal at District court, now waiting to hear from them.”

Dharam Singh Chauhan ( 45 years old ), sits at his general store in Bhallegaon (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Dharam is one of the people, who came forward to pay a portion of the instalment for Ganesh’s car when two men from the bank had come to take the car away due to non-payment of the instalment. However, for Dharam, it is just not any car!

He added, "there are millions and billions of cars, but this one is not among them. It has saved so many lives, 24,000 is nothing for it! When those men were taking the car away, I was standing at my shop only. I was feeling as if my life was being taken away. I could even see tears in Ganesh Bhai’s eyes, the car is like his family member. It is our pride. If we don’t see this car standing in the market for a few days, something feels incomplete".

Ganesh paid 11,000 rupees to those men from the bank that afternoon. For Dharam Singh, Ganesh is their hero. He says, “he might not have money to pay the bank, but he has certainly earned people through his actions, and as we all know, people who are poor, are generally the ones who always are at true service of people.”

Doctor Saluja is one of the doctors who attended 10-15 patients brought in by Ganesh in his TATA Nano car during 42 days of Janta Curfew (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Dr. Lokesh Saluja at Government Combined Hospital, Srinagar, Pauri District Uttarakhand. Dr.Saluja remembers one critical case brought in by Ganesh, "A young man in his 20s was paralysed, with no lower limbs. He had no motion for a week. His abdomen was distended and required urgent treatment. Me and Ganesh must have removed 1-2 kg of faeces from his body.”

Dr.Garima Naithani at her clinic in Srikot, District Pauri Garhwal, Uttrakhand. Ganesh had brought 10-15 patients in emergency to Dr.Garima’s Clinic during those 42 days of Janta Curfew (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

In support of Ganesh’s initiative, the Doctor said, “When I saw Ganesh consecutively with 4-5 patients, I wondered, how could anyone be related to so many patients! And then, he told me that he is providing this service free of cost. Patients were very needy at that time, therefore this kind of service was a big relief for many people''. Doctor Garima did recall many patients who were coming to her clinic from far off places, booking taxis worth more than 1-2 thousand rupees during those days.

This particular computer centre run by Ganesh Bhatt has been non-operational since March 22, 2020 (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Ganesh started two computer centres; one in 2008 and another one in 2010, to provide young students with computer education. He had taken a loan to start his business and also a loan for the car. During the lockdown, he had to sell most of the computers. Eventually, closed down both the centres as no students were coming. He was unable to afford the rent.

Images documented by Ganesh Bhatt ( 33) with some of the patients he had taken to the hospital (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Ganesh explained, “In case if tomorrow there is any legal inquiry, I want to make sure I have proper documentation of all the cases. Also, I wanted to post them on Social Media, so that more people in need could reach out.” Out of 62 cases, 51 got in touch with Ganesh through social media, mostly Facebook.

Ganesh Bhatt’s first post on Facebook on March 23, about his initiative; urging others to join him (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Ganesh Bhatt’s first post on Facebook on March 23, about his initiative; urging others to join him. Ganesh explained, “In case if tomorrow there is any legal inquiry, I want to make sure I have proper documentation of all the cases. Also, I wanted to post them on Social Media, so that more people in need could reach out.” Out of 62 cases, 51 got in touch with Ganesh through social media, mostly Facebook.

There is only one such blue TATA Nano car in this area (2020) by Mansi Thapliyal#COVIDHeroes

Ganesh says, “Now everybody seems to know my car, even the local policemen. There is only one such blue TATA Nano car in this area. People wave or at times honk when they pass by, while I am driving. People can recognise it.”

Credits: Story

Artist: Mansi Thapliyal

Bio
Mansi Thapliyal is a documentary photographer, a visual designer and an educator based out of Delhi and Uttarakhand. She has a Bachelor's in Political Science from Delhi University and an M.A. in Performance Studies from Ambedkar University. Currently, she is teaching at Ukti Waldorf School in Noida.

Project location: Tehri District, Uttarakhand

#COVIDHeroes is an initiative by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Chennai Photo Biennale Foundation (CPB) to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of real-life heroes by sharing their stories.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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